Gov. Phil Murphy Surprises Montclair State University Students During Zoom Lecture

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Published May 11, 2020
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The Montclarion
Gov. Phil Murphy surprised Montclair State University students during a Zoom lecture, with guest Mahen Gunaratna. Photo courtesy of Mahen Gunaratna

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy along with his communications director, Mahen Gunaratna, surprised a group of Montclair State University students attending a Zoom lecture on May 1.

Linda Thomas, an adjunct professor in the School of Communication and Media, had reached out to Gunaratna in hopes to schedule a guest lecture for her students.

“I reached out to him on behalf of the students asking him if he wanted to give a message to them as they were entering the communications field,” Thomas said.

She explained how Gunaratna’s experience after graduating in 2008 paralleled with what her current senior students are going through.

“We learned of [Gunaratna’s] beginnings as a 2008 graduate, also in a disastrous economy, with a degree in international politics/relations from Georgetown University,” Thomas said. “[Gunaratna] supported himself while working at a restaurant/bar during that time. He described that he was way behind his peers, who had all landed jobs in their fields after graduation.”

Midway through the lecture, Gunaratna received a knock on his office door.

“[Gunaratna] turns and says ‘Oh, excuse me, I’ll be right back,'” Thomas said. “He got up and left the scene, and then all you see is a torso sit down, and everyone was like ‘Oh my god, it’s the governor.’”

Gov.Murphy in a zoom call with Montclair State students. Photo courtesy of Sheyla Baez

Gov. Murphy in a Zoom call with Montclair State University students on May 1.
Photo courtesy of Sheyla Baez

Gov. Murphy’s interruption was completely unplanned according to Thomas. Gov. Murphy offered a few words of insight and advice about the current situation to the students present in the lecture.

“There is no playbook for this, for none of us,” Gov. Murphy said. “It’s an educational matter, a life experience matter, a family matter. It is extraordinary. It’s okay to not know all the answers.”

He sat down with the students for only a couple of minutes before handing the lecture back over to Gunaratna.

Sheyla Baez, a senior communication and media arts major, expressed how surprised she was to see the governor make a guest appearance.

“When we all realized it was [Gov. Murphy] I kid you not, I thought blood was rushing to my face,” Baez said. “I thought this can’t be true. I thought it was a celebrity, it was kind of like a nerdy moment. I didn’t even expect myself to be so excited to see [Gov. Murphy].”

Cassidy Layton, a senior communication and media arts major, explained her shock and awe at seeing the governor in their Zoom lecture.

“I was pretty shocked,” Layton said. “I didn’t think [Gov.] Murphy was going to have the time of day. He has a lot of things that he needs to be doing. Also, it was a Friday at 4 p.m., even though with everything going on I thought for sure he’d try to get out earlier than later.”

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